Pine Bonsais - How to Deal With Pine Candles

As I film this it's the 19th of May and I feel that I'm running out of time. Although this time is considered late spring/early summer, I have already noticed the pines on our nursery have started growing very long candles.

I want to show you how we deal with pine candles before we get further into the season and run out of time.

You will find a lot of information available on pines and pine bonsais. However, I've never seen detailed information specifically relating to pine candles, so I hope you will find this tutorial very helpful.
There are many varieties of pine. Here on the Herons nursery we have native pines (scotts pine), dwarf scotts pine, the Austrian black pine, Japanese white pine and more.

To deal with pine candles, the only tools you will really need are a pair of pruning scissors or twig shears.
If you own a pine bonsai or are used to handling pines you will know that pines give out a lot of sap. This means the blades on your scissors will become very sticky very quickly. a tip to combat this is to use a lubricant such as WD40 followed by a sharpening stone. This will help to remove sticky residue quickly while you are working.
The first pine I will demonstrate on is one of the easiest to deal with. This is a Japanese black pine. It's extremely vigorous.
This candle has grown in about 4 weeks. Already its about 4 inches long. If you leave the candles they will become long branches.
The treatment of candles can be a complicated subject, but it doesn't have to be. All I'm doing here is cutting back candles that are visibly too long. In this case where we see one long candle and two short ones, I can cut the long candle off completely and trim the shorter ones.
You can also stimulate bud development further down the branch by plucking the needles.

Remember that the needles are the food factories for the pine so be sure to leave enough needles on the pine altogether otherwise it could become weak.

Most pines keep their needles for two to three years.

This is an example of bud back. The tips of the pine candles are the most vigorous, so if you remove them, you will send the energy back into the branch you will see these secondary buds forming. That's how the pads are formed.
These needles can be left on to strengthen the tree. If you wanted to remove the needles however you can pluck them away and remove half the candle.
Now I'm just pruning the tree to shape. I'm also going through to find any candles that need to be trimmed back because they are too long. If in doubt remove three quarters of the candle or just trim away the tip. They will bud back.

This is an example of some budding back. You can see new shoots have formed.
Last year I removed this candle completely, so now we have all this budding back.
I can now create a pad by removing the tip. The tips of the candles are the most vigorous so if you remove that it will send all the energy back into the tree. This will cause secondary buds to form which is what we create the pads from.

This is a very vigorous pine and needs wiring. Because the candles become branches, the branches lengthen and we don't really get any growth inside the tree. This is because all the vigour is in the end of the candle. As we don't want bare branches in the middle of the tree, we can not only remove the candles but prune back further by cutting down the buds and side branches along the main branches.
Wiring is important for vigorous pines like this as it helps bring light into the branches. If we don't wire the branches down, they will continue growing upwards.

If I was to prune this branch here, then the whole bud will die as there is no green to pull it upwards. Instead I can just cut away part of it, making sure to leave some green behind that will continue to pull the branch upwards. You should never cut a branch until it is bare otherwise the whole branch will die.
This next pine is covered in flowers. I don't worry about cutting away flowers too much, I tend to just let them finish and the pollen to drop off.

This is a very vigorous and healthy pine so all I need to do is reduce the existing candles by half. This will help them to bud back and generate some really nice pad formation.
This is another example of a healthy pine that doesn't really require much maintenance. All I need to do is trim back the centre of each candle.
If you have a weak or unhealthy tree, it will be a lot more difficult to deal with the candles. The worst thing you can do with a sick pine is to trim back the candles. Try to keep the tree healthy and strong with plenty of feed and trim the candles when they start to shoot.